Divorce, Emotion Work and Personal Lives

Research Project Desciption

Over the last decade, my research on divorce and the consequences of divorce for mothers and fathers in the Global North examined the ways in which mothers and fathers live with divorce up to 10 years following a breakdown.This broader project has included the writing of a book and several articles, together with a report on types of post-separation and divorce agreements made in Court. The project explored the emotional work involved in maintaining post-divorce family life and opened up a new direction on divorce by focussing on the sociology of emotions and emotion work at a time of divorce. This was a new approach to divorce studies in the western world, which was otherwise a well-developed literature.

Moreover, the project, over the years, mapped out different parts of the experience of divorcees who commit to parenting post-divorce.  One article, developed the concept ‘divorce regime’ which mapped out the requirements for divorce across 15 mainly EU states and examined how the divorce legislation shapes the experience of divorce. Furthermore, the another article developed the concept of paternal banking, in response to the literature on maternal gatekeeping, an alleged gendered-practice where mothers curtail the father’s access to children post separation. Further foci looked at women’s changing experience of divorce. By examining the way in which women who occupied two different generations experienced divorce as older stay-at-home mothers and professional employed mothers respectively.

How was the research done?

This book is based on a longitudinal qualitative study of family practices post separation in Ireland. The main body of the research was based on qualitative interviews with a sample of 39 separated parents and ten family lawyers in 2008 and a follow-up study with 19 parents in 2014. The study started as a doctoral study on the negotiation of family practices upon separation in 2006. The doctoral study had captured only a slice of the experience of divorce. Most specifically it failed to conceptualise divorce as a process and get an overview of the changes over time. In order to say something more definitive about changing family practices upon divorce, I wanted to return to the parents to see how they were getting on six years later.


The book is about the connected lives of divorcees – it is the stories of how families continue despite divorce. The book opened up a new direction on divorce by focussing on emotion work at a time of divorce. The book focuses on parental commitment to family life after divorce, in contrast to the perception that divorce breaks families and ends relationships, a perception that is perpetuated often in the popular culture and the media. The book describes and explains how and why families and relationships endure after divorce. In addition to focussing on the instrumental aspects of parenting, such as the financial and parenting arrangements that divorcees make upon marital dissolution, the book describes the emotions experienced by the participants and argues that these emotions are framed by the prevailing ideologies specific to time and place. Based on a longitudinal study of a sample of divorced parents over a ten year period, the book details how relationships change over time. The book is a frank ‘up close and personal’ portrait of the aftermath of marriage dissolution.

One book review published in the Irish Journal of Sociology stated that “ the monograph contributes a thorough documentation of the intricate complexity of post-divorce family life for four very different types of experiences. Included are the subtle forms of domination and violence in these relationships that are largely unspoken of and not yet well researched. This contribution is enhanced by a complementary contextualization of these experiences. The ongoing commitments and support documented by, for, and between divorcees challenge beliefs that divorce demonstrates the rise of selfish individualism and is undermining societal solidarity”. The book was also endorsed by several leading scholars in the field who wrote: “The very word ‘divorce’ suggests ending. But relationships between the Irish divorced parents Elena Moore interviewed over six years very much lived on, albeit in new ways. Yet the rules have yet to be written, Moore argues, on how parents are ‘supposed to feel’ in post-divorce life. Placing divorce on a wide cultural map, Moore focuses on the unspoken emotion work divorced parents do to manage guilt (‘I’m not all bad’), avoid hurt and anger (‘he’s not picking up the slack’) and a host of other feelings.  This book is a carefully researched, clearly written, very important contribution to our understanding of divorce.”- Arlie Hochschild, University of California, USA . “This thought-provoking book takes us deep into the world of emotion work in post-divorce family lives over time. Elena Moore throws a welcome light on the moral identities and gendered inequalities of parenting after separation. The book should be a must-read for family law and policy makers, as well as researchers and students.” – Rosalind Edwards, University of Southampton, UK

Book chapters

Moore, E. (2017). Intimacy as Democracy and the Notion of Autonomy in Irish Divorcees’ Narratives’ In Ryan-Flood, R. (Ed.) Gender and Intimacy in Contemporary Ireland. London: Routledge

Journal Articles

Delaying Divorce: Pitfalls of Restrictive Divorce Requirements.
Journal of Family Issues. 37(16) 2265–2293
Moore, E. (2016)

From Traditional to Companionate Marriages: Women’s changing experience of divorce.
Families, Relationships and Societies. 1(3) 345-360.
Moore, E. (2012)

Paternal Banking and Maternal Gatekeeping: Gendered Practices in Post-Divorce Families.
Journal of Family Issues. 33(6) 745-772.
Moore, E. (2012)

Renegotiating Roles Post-Divorce: A decisive break from tradition?
Journal of Divorce and Remarriage. 53(5) 402-419.
Moore, E. (2012)

Divorce and Intergenerational Support: Comparing the Perceptions of Divorced Adults and Their Parents.
Journal of Comparative Family Studies. 43(2) 261-279.
Moore, E., Timonen, V., Dwyer, C., & Doyle, M. (2012)

“We have all moved on”: How Grandparents Cope with their Adult Child’s Relationship Breakdown.
Families, Relationships and Societies. 1(2) 223-243.7.
Dwyer, C., Doyle, M., Moore, E., Timonen, V. (2012)

Divorce and Stigma in Ireland: How the law and other social institutions shape the experience of stigma.
Irish Journal of Family Law. 14(3) 64-71.
Moore, E. (2011)

Public Engagement

The report outlines the findings of an investigation into post-separation and divorce agreements made in the Family Law Circuit Courts of Ireland and their implications for parent–child contact and family lives. The study was commissioned and funded by the Office of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs. For more see:

Post Separation Parenting: A study of separation and divorce agreements made in the Family Law Circuit Courts of Ireland and their implications for parent–child contact and family lives.
Report to the Office of Minister for Children, Dublin.
Mahon, E., & Moore, E., (2011)